MY colleague's son came down with a bad throat infection recently. Mouth ulcers caused the boy so much pain that he couldn't even swallow his saliva. Worried about the likelihood of dehydration should this continue, my colleague asked if I knew of a home remedy that could help. I know of a number of herbs, I said, but they might not be suitable for the boy. I suggested that she seek a doctor's advice.
When I was young, my grandmother used what the Terengganu Hokkien call ban tay gim whenever anybody had a sore throat. I don't know what the herb is called in English. I have scoured the web for pictures of the herb but have yet to find any.
A Malay friend suggested that it might be the pegaga Cina, a smaller species of the common pegaga (pennywort) used for ulam. He could be right, since the leaves of the herb look like the pegaga but are much smaller. The largest is about the size of a one sen coin at most. When crushed, the leaves give off a fruity fragrance similar to that of the jambu air (water apple). The herb can be found in the foothills and along streams. You can grow it in pots but you have to keep it in the shade and water it well.
For sore throat, several handfuls of the entire plant are needed. They are pounded into pulp and the juice is squeezed by hand. Wild tualang honey is added and the concoction is drunk immediately. It stings a little as it goes down the throat, but if it works, the soreness will be gone in a matter of hours.
When my family moved to Kuala Lumpur in the 1970s, we had the good fortune of living next door to a herbalist who had a shop in Lebuh Ampang.
The elderly lady taught me quite a bit about medicinal herbs, including a local herb used traditionally for sore throat relief. It was known as snake grass among the Hokkien. The herb is planted around the home not only to keep snakes away, as it is commonly believed, but also as a cure for sore throat and other ailments caused by excessive heat in the body.
Two or three mature leaves are collected and infused in hot water. The infusion is drunk warm and if you can get it past your throat without throwing up, chances are relief will come soon after. Usually those who find the remedy a bitter pill to swallow will soon learn to take better care of their health so as not to chance getting another sore throat. They will also understand why the Malays call it hempedu bumi or "gall of the earth".
In the old days, families living in the villages used many plants as herbal home remedies.
Most have been forgotten not only because sugar-coated pills are widely available and easier to swallow, but partly because of the fear of side effects modern medicine has instilled in us.
I wish there were a database in cyberspace on local herbs, set up along the lines of Wikipedia and updated by anyone who has expert knowledge of them.
This collective knowledge shared in the public domain would provide an insight into the diversity of our medical flora and hopefully inspire research on herbal remedies.